Toshiba Portege R835: Less Ultra, More Notebookby Dustin Sklavos on March 30, 2012 11:35 AM EST
Conclusion: Time for a Change
When Toshiba released the Portege R700 in 2010, it came out of nowhere. We didn't have ultrabooks on the market, and nobody was expecting a design like that from Toshiba of all companies. The design served them well, and they extended that design language to respectable notebooks like their Tecra R840 and R850 lines.
The problem is that while the R700 was a fine effort, it wasn't perfect out of the gate, and it seems like Toshiba's designers may have gotten nervous about messing with success. The result is an R835 with hardware updates under the hood but none of its predecessor's issues resolved. On the contrary, the R835 seems to have suffered in the interim.
Fundamentally we have a sound design, but things fall apart in key areas of the experience. The display is the same problem we've belabored time and time again; that's easy enough to fix provided economies of scale pick up and better quality displays become more readily available, and judging from the explosion of the tablet market this is entirely possible. The keyboard is simple enough to revise, too; lose the glossy keycaps, increase the y-height of the keys, and somehow fix the mushy tactile response. These two items are things that most users can adjust to on a regular notebook, but they're fixable at the design phase as well.
Unfortunately, the last major issue with the R835 is the cooling design. I'm not convinced this is unsolvable, but Toshiba may have to make serious revisions under the hood to get thermals in check—or they have to look at sacrificing quiet running for lower temperatures. My other problems with the R835 were things I could see someone adjusting to, but I can't recommend a system with a CPU that's hitting the high 90s under full load, let alone Intel's spec 100C.
What's disappointing is that if it wasn't for those thermals, I could probably give the Portege R835 a tentative recommendation. Battery life is fantastic, performance is solid enough, and the features are there. I can see the R835 theoretically being a fine solution for certain users. As it stands, though, I couldn't in good conscience recommend a notebook that's pretty much banking on its warranty the moment it ships.